Minor League Baseball kicks off the season on April 3 and leading up to Opening Day, MiLB.com will be taking a close look at what the year might bring for each league. Here's a team-by-team analysis of what you might find in the Midwest League.
From new prospects to old favorites, the Midwest League continues to attract a vast array of talented performers, whether they're ballplayers, mascots or Jake the Diamond Dog. Thirteen teams will try and unseat two-time defending Midwest League-Champion West Michigan, on the field and at the gates, and they'll use a wide collection of attractions to do just that.
Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the Midwest League in 2008:
2007 Results: 79-61; First-half Western Division title; advanced to championship series
2008 Manager: Nelson Prada
Things to look forward to: Beloit announced a partnership with Chicago Rockford International Airport to sponsor the Snappers' Lucky Program Page Contest during the season. Match the number in a Snappers game program with the number announced over the PA system and fans may claim a $25 travel certificate. The travel certificate will be worth $100 on each of the 15 fireworks nights and $300 on Fan Appreciation Night (Aug. 30). ... Former Snappers Yovani Gallardo and Brian Duensing will be immortalized with bobblehead giveaways on June 1 and July 20, respectively, for the first 500 fans in attendance. ... To help promote the opening of the heavily anticipated summer film, The Dark Knight, the Snappers will hold "Batman Night" on July 18 and encourage fans to dress in their favorite Batman attire for the evening's game. ... The first three picks of Minnesota's 2006 draft, Chris Parmelee, Will Benson and Tyler Robertson, are expected to be on the Snappers' Opening Day roster.
2007 Results: 61-77
2008 Manager: Brian Rupp
Things to look forward to: With the departure of radio personality Randy Wehofer to the Iowa Cubs, the new "Voice of the Bees" will be Matt Pauley. Pauley takes over as the team's director of broadcasting and media relations. ... Burlington will honor the United States Armed Forces, service veterans and support organizations on May 17. ... The team will transform Community Field into a tropical paradise for "Jimmy Buffett Night" on July 19 and change it into a winter wonderland for "Christmas Eve Night" on July 24. ... After a successful debut with Rookie-level Idaho, the Royals first-round draft pick in 2007, Mike Moustakas, could find his way to Burlington in 2008.
Cedar Rapids Kernels
2007 Results: 78-61; Second-half Western Division title
2008 Manager: Keith Johnson
Things to look forward to: The Kernels made headlines with a pair of offseason announcements, the first of which was an extension of their Player Development Agreement with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim through the 2010 season. ... On March 12, it was publicized that the franchise had reached an agreement with Dale and Thomas Popcorn for the naming rights to the five-year-old Veterans Memorial Stadium. The agreement will run through the 2012 season and is the first such accord in the 118-year history of the franchise. ... Hank Conger, a 2006 first-round draft pick, could join the Kernels after rehabbing a labrum injury to his throwing shoulder. Conger hit .290 in 84 games and was named an MWL All-Star in 2007. ... Cedar Rapids will host its annual Fan Appreciation Night on Aug. 31 and will feature a fireworks presentation. ... This will be the 119th season of professional baseball in the town of Cedar Rapids. The Cedar Rapids Canaries began play as a Class A club in 1890.
2007 Results: 70-67
2008 Manager: Mike Micucci
Things to look forward to: Five first-rounders from the 2007 First-Year Player Draft should see time with the club, and possibly make the Opening Day Roster. Right-hander Blake Beavan, the Rangers' top overall pick, could be joined by Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez and Raymond Hunter. ... New Era has designed a new "Louie the LumberKing" logo for the 2008 season, the first time the team logo has been redesigned since the franchise adopted the L-Kings moniker in 1994. The new "Louie," who has been the team's mascot since that time, will debut at the April 3 home opener. ... Clinton will suspend the sale of peanuts on May 19 to bring attention to those with peanut allergies. ... On June 28, the team will help raise awareness in the ballpark with an "environmentally friendly" evening of baseball. ... Pink wristbands will be given out to fans on May 11, Mother's Day, as the club observes Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
2007 Results: 78-62; First-half Eastern Division title
2008 Manager: Donnie Scott
Things to look forward to: The Dayton Dragons appointed veteran broadcaster Tom Nichols as the club's radio announcer and director of media relations and broadcasting. Nichols, a former Broadcaster of the Year in the Southern League, will enter his 20th season as a Minor League broadcaster. ... "Ballpark Digest" anointed Mandalay Sports Entertainment, the owner and operator of the Dayton Dragons, as the winner of its "Baseball Organization of the Year" award. ... On July 12, the Dragons will honor deployed Airmen and their families from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Springfield Air National Guard Base. Fans will be able to welcome home deployed airmen, witness a swear-in of new recruits on the field, and enjoy the singing of 'God Bless America' by a performer from the United States Air Force.
Fort Wayne Wizards
2007 Results: 55-84
2008 Manager: Doug Dascenzo
Things to look forward to: The team will host 12 fireworks nights, 10 of which will feature MWL entertainers such as "Jake the Diamond Dog" or the Zooperstars. ... The Wizards will move into a new state-of-the-art ballpark in 2009 that will become the feature attraction of Fort Wayne's Harrison Square project. ... "Thirsty Thursdays" will return, featuring $2 drinks on various Thursday home games. "Dollar Day" also returns to Fort Wayne, allowing families to feast on $1 hot dogs and quench their thirst with $1 soft drinks.
Great Lakes Loons
2007 Results: 57-82
2008 Manager: Juan Bustabad
Things to look forward to: Joshua Bell and Eduardo Perez, two of the Loons' top offensive run producers in 2007, could begin the year back with Great Lakes. ... The Loons present some of the most original promotions around the Minors. Among them are "Game Show Night," where Dow Diamond will be dressed to resemble many popular game shows, "Singles Night" featuring speed dating on the concourse, and "'80s Rocker Night" featuring a live Guitar Hero competition. ... The Loons have partnered with Tri-City Brewing to present Loons Summer Ale, a new beer that will be exclusive to Dow Diamond for fans 21 years and older. ... Dow Diamond will host the MWL All-Star Game and subsequent All-Star festivities beginning on June 15.
Kane County Cougars
2007 Results: 63-76
2008 Manager: Aaron Nieckula
Things to look forward to: Two first-round picks from the 2007 Draft, Sean Doolittle and Corey Brown, could be on the Opening Day Roster. ... The Kane County Forest Preserve Commission recently approved a $10.5-million bid to renovate Elfstrom Stadium in time for the 2009 season. Among the additions will be a second deck, a covered concourse and luxury suites. ... The Cougars were mentioned on a nationally televised episode of Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Orange County." Shane Keough, drafted by the A's in 2005 and the son of series star Jeana Keough, could begin the season on the Cougars' Opening Day Roster. ... The Cougars will suspend the sale of peanuts on July 16 to bring about awareness to those will peanut allergies.
2007 Results: 78-61
2008 Manager: Clayton McCullough
Things to look forward to: Lansing and the Michigan State University baseball team will play the second annual "Crosstown Showdown" on April 24 at Oldsmobile Park, home field to both clubs. The Lugnuts won the inaugural contest, 4-3, in 2007. ... The Lugnuts and Farm Bureau Insurance will continue to partner with the Honorary Bat Kid of the Game promotion. Kids are offered four tickets next to the Lugnuts' dugout, a chance to play catch on the field and throw out the first pitch, and the task of supplying water to the umpires between innings. ... The Blue Jays and Lugnuts extended their player developmental contract through the 2010 season.
2007 Results: 71-68
2008 Manager: Ryne Sandberg
Things to look forward to: The Cubs two first-round picks from the 2007 Draft, Josh Vitters and Josh Donaldson, should find their way to Peoria in 2008. ... The club will give away t-shirts with caricatures of four of the most popular players in Chiefs history -- Joe Girardi, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and Albert Pujols -- on May 30, June 27, July 18 and Aug. 1, respectively. ... The team will continue its tradition of auctioning off special game-worn jerseys with "Off Their Back" nights. On April 25, the Chiefs will wear soccer-style jerseys and the next night, they will adorn pink jerseys to bring awareness to Breast Cancer research. The team will wear military-themed jerseys on Memorial Day, light-blue jerseys for Father's Day (Prostate Cancer research), replica 1908 Cubs jerseys on June 20 and Hawaiian-themed jerseys on Aug. 2. ... Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter and his 300 saves will make a special appearance at O'Brien Field on June 14 as part of the Chiefs' "Legends at the Ballpark" night.
Quad Cities River Bandits
2007 Results: 78-61
2008 Manager: Steve Dillard
Things to look forward to: Formerly the Swing of the Quad Cities, the team opens 2008 as the Quad Cities River Bandits. ... 2007 First-round Draft pick Clayton Mortensen, who posted a 3.12 ERA and 45 strikeouts during a late-season promotion to Quad Cities in 2007, should be on the team's Opening Day roster. ... All of the team's 140 games will be broadcast on WYEC-FM. ... Beginning in May, the club will introduce two new promotions for each Friday and Saturday night home game. "Fireworks Fridays" will feature an elaborate pyrotechnic extravaganza after each Friday night home game and "Rockin' Saturdays" a live band on stage immediately following the game. ... The Cardinals and River Bandits extended their player developmental contract through the 2010 season.
South Bend Silver Hawks
2007 Results: 68-70
2008 Manager: Mark Haley
Things to look forward to: Daniel Perales and Brad Miller, who combined for 28 homers and 183 RBIs for the Silver Hawks in 2007, should continue to provide two strong bats in the middle of the order. ... South Bend will welcome back all of its daily promotions, including "Dollar Monday," "Two-fer Tuesday," "Wacky Wednesdays," "Thirsty Thursdays" and host fireworks after every Friday home game. ... The Silver Hawks will play Notre Dame's baseball team on April 2 in the inaugural "Silver vs. Gold" exhibition game. Proceeds from this "Battle in the Bend" will go to the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation to fight Niemann-Pick Type C Disease. ... The Silver Hawks will promote Breast Cancer Awareness on Mother's Day with an "Off Their Back" pink jersey auction and a free giveaway of 1,000 pink baseballs to the first 1,000 women to attend the game.
West Michigan Whitecaps
2007 Results: 83-57; Midwest League Champions
2008 Manager: Joe DePastino
Things to look forward to: The two-time defending MWL Champions will open their season with an exhibition against Grand Valley State University on April 2. Inclement weather cancelled the planned April 2007 exhibition game between the two clubs. ... Four seats from the original Tiger Stadium have been transplanted to Fifth Third Ballpark right behind home plate and are available for all home games. Each seat is named after a Tigers great -- Kirk Gibson, Ty Cobb, Al Kaline and Ernie Harwell. ... West Michigan will giveaway five bobbleheads throughout the year, with fans voting online for what the fifth bobblehead should be. The team will also celebrate a "Star Wars Night" -- which will include Star Wars jerseys and a jersey auction throughout the night. ... It was an offseason of honors for the Whitecaps. MiLB.com named the club its Class A Team of the Year and Minor League Baseball honored the Whitecaps as the winner of the Larry MacPhail Promotional Trophy.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
2007 Results: 53-85
2008 Manager: Terry Pollreisz
Things to look forward to: Rattlers players will wear 1950s throwback jerseys and stick around for postgame autograph sessions with fans on Sundays beginning April 13. ... A series of pint glass giveaways, featuring past Rattlers players, will begin on May 15 with Alex Rodriguez. Other pints will feature Harold Baines, Goose Gossage and David Ortiz. ... A pair of the Mariners 2007 Draft picks, Nolan Gallagher (fourth round) and Keith Renaud (10th round) should begin the year with Wisconsin.